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Privatization of a Government-Owned Bookstore (c. 1993)

The occupational uncertainties faced by former GDR citizens in the wake of unification come to the fore in this conversation between author Landolf Scherzer and Annegret S., a bookseller in Thuringia. After the Wende, she explains, real life was just as exciting as a book. Below, she recounts how she managed to open a bookstore despite considerable adversity. Although she feels that she is “doing well compared to others,” she still views herself as a loser of unification.

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The Twelfth Day

While the Landrat [district chief executive] in Schmalkalden engages in negotiations about the weal and woe of the Kreis [county] of Bad Salzungen, about its division or continued existence, I drive to see his friend René – this time, however, I have announced my visit in advance. And because I am already in Stadtlengsfeld an hour before my meeting with him, I go to a café that I know. The only person sitting there is a woman of about forty with tousled black hair and still-youthful, radiant brown eyes. She is drinking hot chocolate. I join her and she seems pleased, for she tells me – without my having to strain to initiate a conversation – that she is a spa patient at the old Wasserburg* here in town. Lately, she says, they have also begun to treat women with psychiatric problems there. No, of course she doesn’t have a problem in the head, but, like other women, she has had a hard time dealing with the Wende**. Compared to many others, though, she feels she is still doing well. Her roommate, for example, is a former LPG chairperson – after the Wende, the LPG*** went away, as did her husband, her small house, and her property! She, in comparison, has even made gains since the Wende.
[ . . . ]

She introduces herself and orders me a glass of red wine. “Annegret S., bookseller in a small town in Thuringia.” In 1970, she had started her apprenticeship as a bookseller in the Volksbuchhandlung [government-owned "People's Bookstore"], which now in a sense “belongs” to her. “Already as a child," she says, "I saw the world as consisting really only of books. When I went to the library, I used to secretly bring my mother’s and father’s library cards along as well. I took out fairy tales for myself, romances for my mother, and crime mysteries or books about Indians for my father. And I read them all.”

A bookseller for nearly thirty years, she was of course familiar with the most thrilling tales from world literature. But after the Wende, she explains, she didn’t have to read any more because she experienced the most exciting stories live.

* Reference to a castle in Stadtlengsfeld that houses a hospital – eds.
** Reference to the events leading to the collapse of Communism and the subsequent unification – eds.
*** Acronym for Landwirtschaftliche Produktionsgenossenschaft, a term for large, collectivized farms in the former GDR – eds.

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